Part 3: How My Insecurities Affect My Friendships/Relationships
As mentioned in Part 2, my main insecurities seem to center around not being good enough, others being more fun or cooler than me, and of being abandoned. The ways in which these insecurities present themselves tend to be through paranoia and jealousy/envy, which we touched on in Part 1. When analyzing my past, I realize that these issues have been around in both my close friendships and past romantic (monogamous) relationships, so they aren’t something having to do with being poly or in an open relationship. They are issues that run deep and will take a lot of work to conquer.
Like everything that I write that is super honest, I write it so others will not feel alone. I share these experiences in the hopes that people can relate to them. I’m not necessarily looking for any advice, just sharing my life.
Insecurities and Friends
The Mall Incident
My earliest memory of actually acting out in anger because of my insecurities is when I was 13-14 years old. Back in early high school, I had a small, close group of friends. There were 4-5 of us that would often have sleepovers together. After the middle school incident (mentioned in Part 2), I found it really hard when I found out that the friend who I considered myself closest to was hanging out alone often with one of the other girls in the group. I felt so down, angry, and sad (both jealous – this other girl was taking my best friend from me – and envious – I wanted a close bond and alone time with a best friend).
The three of us went to the mall to hang out one day, and they were telling a story about something funny that had happened the other day when they were hanging out. I was on edge. Then, they kept walking off together when I was looking at stuff (I don’t think this was actually intentional or meant to be mean, but my insecurities told me it was). I got so worked up that one time when they walked off and then stopped to wait for me, I stomped over and knocked into them, pushing my friend’s water bottle up into her teeth. We both started crying and my mom took me home.
My BFF’s First Boyfriend
Not long after, that same friend got her first boyfriend and started on the tennis team. Previously, we had hung out almost every day after school. All of a sudden, she didn’t have time for me (which looking back as an adult, is understandable). I had been replaced, and that did not feel good. I felt very blown off and unimportant, and we pretty much stopped hanging out for quite a few years. (Though now we are absolute best friends/mom friends and hang out like every week and cheer each other on.)
With new friends, even as an adult, there is always that fear that they won’t like me once they get to know me or that they don’t actually like me for me but for something I have. For example, I get stuck in thoughts that my husband’s girlfriend doesn’t actually want to be friends with me, but just is to placate me in some way. I get stuck in this fear even after she has said without prompting multiple times that she liked being friends. This is an example of my insecurities coming out as paranoia.
Insecurities and Romantic Relationships
Even in the Beginning
I started dating my first boyfriend because he was the first guy to ever ask me out. I was 20 years old and had never been asked out, kissed, or even asked to a dance! (Now, look at me, I have three partners). Needless to say, I really didn’t have feelings for him. I actually was often embarrassed by his behavior; he was nerdy in a way I wasn’t, liked doing magic, and could often be socially awkward (none of which are terrible qualities, just qualities that were not compatible with me).
The point is, even though I didn’t have deep feelings for him, I still got very attached over time (for anyone with a psychology background, I tend to have an anxious-ambivalent attachment style, which I will go more into in the next section). As time went on, I became more and more insecure and paranoid that he actually liked other girls better than me. I’d be jealous if he was texting “too often” (to my standards) with a female friend or practicing guitar with a girl in the worship band. He had never given me a reason to be jealous or doubt him, but I did. He eventually broke up with me, saying that he wanted “off the rollercoaster,” referring to my ever-changing emotions.
So, there are four types of attachment styles according to attachment theory: secure, anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoidant, and disorganized/disoriented. Attachment styles form from birth between babies and caregivers and stay with someone throughout life. Therefore, the way you were attached to your parents is the way you will often be attached to a romantic partner(s).
People with secure attachments will be distressed when separated from their caregiver/partner, but joyful and reassured when reunited. They tend to have higher self-esteem, better self-reliance, more independence, more social and academic success, and less depression/anxiety than people with insecure attachments. A secure attachment comes about from the child having their needs met consistently. The child knows that their parent will respond to them when they need help.
People with anxious-ambivalent attachment (which is what I identify with the most) are very highly distressed when the caregiver/partner leaves, but display anger and/or helplessness when the caregiver/partner returns. The person will want to be close to the caregiver/partner but will obviously be angry with them as well. This attachment style comes about from a caregiver who is unpredictable/inconsistent in their responses; they may be very nurturing and attuned at times, but then insensitive and cold/critical other times. The child uses their anger or helplessness to control the interaction with the caregiver. For example, acting whiny and clingy to try to get their needs met.
This shows up in adults in the way of low self-esteem/self-worth, abandonment issues, being overly dependent on a partner, requiring frequent reassurance of worth/care/love, oversensitivity to the actions and moods of a partner, and just generally being emotional, impulsive, moody, and unpredictable. Let me tell you, I struggle with all of those things!
Those with anxious-avoidant attachment will not seem to care if their caregiver/partner leaves or when they return, though physiologically they have a stress response. They pretty much act like they don’t care about anything at all having to do with any adults. This attachment style tends to come about from a caregiver that has a history of rejecting attachment behaviors and not meeting the child’s needs. The child learns not to even ask because they will be ignored or rejected anyway.
This turns into dismissive attachment in adulthood, in which the person will deny vulnerability, repress emotions, and refuse to be emotionally close with partners. When in an argument, they will become distant and aloof, seeming to shutdown their emotions. They project a very high self-esteem and become very angry if someone tries to threaten their self-esteem.
Those with disorganized/disoriented attachment will show a mix of behavior and/or contradictory behavior. They may appear fearful, freeze, or move jerkily, as if not sure what to do, when the caregiver leaves/returns. They aren’t sure what to expect from the caregiver; they want to seek support but are scared. They will seem constantly on edge. As adults, they will flipflop between wanting to connect with others and then quickly withdrawing.
My Current Relationship
So, the biggest ways that my insecurities come out in my current relationship include being afraid of my partner thinking other people are more fun than me, my partner deciding to leave me, my partner liking someone else more than me, and my partner preferring to spend more time with someone else than me. Those all can boil down into not feeling good enough (low self-esteem/self-worth) and abandonment issues.
Because of these insecurities, I have had a tendency to control my partner’s other relationships, even though I know that I shouldn’t be. I’m not looking to be scolded here or talked down to, because I do realize my behavior has been terrible. But I want to be upfront about it because I am not here to pretend like I’m some perfect poly person. (Also, in the next part in this series I will talk about how I am changing my behavior and thought patterns).
So, yes, I admit that I’ve done some really bad and annoying things as a poly partner. I’ve obsessively checked his phone, read his messages, and gotten mad about them (especially when I was pregnant; however, I haven’t done this in over 6 months at this point – hallelujah). I would check his smart watch when it would vibrate on the counter so I could read his messages (again, haven’t done this in over 6 months). I would get upset many times when he was openly texting other women (we’ve since set up a boundary of him not texting other women during our hangout time in the evening).
The things I’m still working on now is him physically going to see other partners, whether that be on a date or at their house. So far, I’ve tried all of the standard advice: distract yourself with something else fun while he’s gone, read The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola, don’t think about it, accept that jealousy is normal, etc. Nothing has consistently worked at this point.
All the negative emotions still bubble up 90% of the time as soon as he mentions wanting to spend time with someone else. Could this be a co-dependency thing? Maybe. Could this be a mental health thing? Maybe. Could this be a pregnancy/post-partum thing? Maybe. Is this something I will ever be able to work through? Probably, and I’m going to keep trying.
It seems right now that all of my anxiety revolves around sex; whereas, in the past, I was more concerned about intimacy. I wonder whether this focus of anxiety on him having sex with someone else stems from the fact that I just had a baby 6 months ago and I feel as though I’m failing in the sex department. I’m tired, I’m up with the baby multiple times at night, and during the day and evening I almost constantly have a toddler or baby attached to me. So, I just have not had much of a sex drive, and I feel guilty about it even if no one is making me feel guilty but myself. Do I feel threatened by someone else providing for him what I feel I’m lacking right now? Yes. Should I view it this way? No, but I do.
Like everything that I write that is super honest, I write it so others will not feel alone. If you have experiences like these, don’t let someone tell you that “you must not be poly then” or that “you’re doing it wrong.” Get on any poly forum and you will see people with a plethora of issues. If you recognize your issues, are trying to work on them, and are consciously making the choice to pursue an open or polyamorous relationship with your partner(s), then that is what matters – not the opinion of any holier-than-thou internet commenters.
Tune in for Part 4: How I’m Working on Myself where I talk about strategies for dealing with jealousy, envy, and insecurities.